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Courtesy: GoBearkats.com
Saturday 2 p.m.
Courtesy: Gene Schallenberg/Huntsville Item
Release: 10/06/2011
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The memory is as clear as if it happened yesterday.

What looked to be a blowout for fifth-ranked Stephen F. Austin turned out to be a nail-biter of the best kind. Well, almost the best kind.

The young Bearkats clawed back from a 14-point deficit and made a game of last fall's Battle of the Piney Woods at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Trailing by three with a little more than two minutes to play, Sam Houston looked to have the go-ahead score in hand, but a pass was just beyond the fingertips of freshman receiver Richard Sincere, who did not have a defender between him and the end zone.

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Hard-fought as it was and much closer than expected, the Kats were unable to pull off the huge upset against their archrivals from Nacogdoches.

After stewing about that bitter defeat for about a year now, Sam Houston gets another shot at the Lumberjacks on Saturday when the Battle of the Piney Woods grudge match is renewed at Reliant Stadium again.

"Well, it's finally here. We try not to look ahead, but with this game you can't help but look ahead to a game like this," Bearkats senior linebacker Kash David said after practice Tuesday. "We're excited and ready to go."

In each of Sam Houston's first three contests, the 11th-ranked Kats, who are still a young team relatively speaking, admittedly had something to prove.

They wanted to avenge a 42-point beating to Western Illinois from a season earlier. Check.

Then Sam Houston took on its first challenge that meant something in regards to the Southland Conference championship picture and took down then-18th-ranked Central Arkansas, a team largely expected to be among the top three or four teams in the conference when all is said and done, to the tune of 31-10. That victory vaulted the Bearkats into the FCS polls for the first time in four years.

Next, the Kats knocked off New Mexico, an FBS school, in Albuquerque, N.M. in a wild 48-45 overtime thriller.

Most recently, Sam Houston, without the aid of its starting quarterback Brian Bell, who sat out due to suffering from concussion-like symptoms earlier in the week, defeated upstart program UTSA 22-7.

Now, the Bearkats have a chance to prove that they're no fluke against the two-time defending Southland champ Lumberjacks.

"Every week, we have a lot to prove and this week's no different. With the Southland Conference, anybody on any week can win," David said. "It doesn't matter if you're playing the number eight team or the number one team. It's the Southland Conference and every team is going to bring their A game.

"The more you win, the more you're going to have that target on your back, so we feel we have a little target on your back. Every week, the games get bigger."

On the surface, Sam Houston, which is one of only three undefeated teams remaining in the FCS (top-ranked Georgia Southern and fourth-ranked North Dakota State are the others), and Stephen F. Austin appear to be going in different directions.

While the Bearkats, led by standout sophomore running back Tim Flanders (504 rushing yards and seven touchdowns), are 1-0 in conference and 4-0 overall, the Lumberjacks (1-4 overall) have lost four straight, including a 38-28 loss to Central Arkansas in their conference opener last week.

The Kats aren't buying into that, though, knowing that when it comes to rivalry games, anything can happen.

"You can't look at our records. Obviously, they were ranked high and they were supposed to blow us out of the water (last year) and we hung in there until the end," Bell said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't pull it out, but that's the Battle of the Piney Woods. It's Sam Houston and SFA. Records are out the window.

"They're a great ballclub. They have a lot of great athletes on defense, so we're going to have to do a lot of work and preparation to score some points."

Though Stephen F. Austin, which had to replace Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Jeremy Moses, isn't winning like it is accustomed to, one thing that hasn't changed is that the Lumberjacks can move the ball.

In its three games against FCS opponents (second-ranked Northern Iowa, Texas State and Central Arkansas), Stephen F. Austin accumulated more than 1,300 yards of offense with 1,032 passing yards.

With the Lumberjacks still possessing the ability to air it out, the Bearkats know they're going to have to get a lot of pressure on quarterback Brady Attaway (1,400 passing yards and eight TDs) to prevent some of those big passing plays.

"We're going to run a lot of blitzes and we've got to get there on our blitz and take the pressure off our secondary," David said. "The only good thing is this year, since they lost Jeremy Moses, they're trying to take pressure off this young quarterback that they have, so they're running the ball about 30-40 times a game, which is good for us because we can stop the run and we stack the box and make sure the run is stopped at all costs.

"Teams have had success passing against us. We've just got to go out there and prove it."

As if Sam Houston needed a little extra incentive, a win could do several things for the Bearkats, who haven't beaten Stephen F. Austin since 2008. A win Saturday could position SHSU nicely in the Southland Conference with a 2-0 mark with just two road games remaining. At the same time, a Bearkat win would push the Lumberjacks to 0-2 in conference, essentially eliminating SFA from the title picture.

"It puts fire in us, that's for sure. Every team wants to be that team that's winning conference and they do it," David said. "They're not cocky, but they carry themselves a little different than every other team. That just gives you a little extra motivation just to go out there and play your hardest.

"We know that we've got to get this win. We've got to put the rivalry game aside and be level-headed. There's going to be a big crowd and emotions are going to be running high, so we've got to be smart and play the way we know how to play defense."

"We've got signs everywhere that say, 'prove it every week,' so we're going to come out there and fight every down," Bell added.

The latest chapter in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" football rivalry continues Saturday, Oct. 8 when Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin meet at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Tickets for the 87th Battle of the Piney Woods may be purchased now online at
www.gobearkats.com/tickets . Fans also may order their tickets through the Sam Houston athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone at Bowers Stadium or by calling ticket office at (936) 294-1729.

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